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Newsmaker / Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter: Film of his life a contender

Monday, March 27, 2000

By Milan Simonich, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Fresh from the Academy Awards, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter is in the eye of an old storm.

 
Rubin "Hurricane" Carter speaks Saturday at a forum on the death penalty held by the Pittsburgh branch of the NAACP at the Wesley Center AME Zion Church on Centre Avenue in the Hill District. 

His chief adversaries are no longer movie critics, many of whom punched a few holes in the historical accuracy of "The Hurricane," which stars Denzel Washington as Carter. Washington was nominated for the Academy Award as best actor for his portrayal of Carter.

The depiction of Carter as a martyr in "The Hurricane" has inflamed people who contend he was guilty as charged of a triple murder in a Paterson, N.J., bar on June 17, 1966.

His most persistent critic is Cal Deal, a one-time New Jersey newspaperman who covered Carter's case for two years.

Deal, who thought Carter was innocent until he began interviewing him in 1975, has established an Internet site called "Hurricane Carter: The Other Side of the Story," which can be found at www.graphicwitness.com/carter.

 
    Rubin "Hurricane" Carter

Date of birth: May 6, 1937

Place of birth: Clifton, N.J.

In the news: Carter came to Pittsburgh on Saturday to crusade against the death penalty, then flew to Los Angeles for the Academy Awards. Denzel Washington was a best-actor nominee for his portrayal of Carter in "The Hurricane." The movie depicts Carter as a victim of injustice, who served 19 years in prison for murders he did not commit. Critics of Carter have launched an Internet counterattack saying he was guilty.

Background: Carter served time in reform school, was separated from the Army after four courts-martial, and was sent to prison for committing two brutal street muggings, all before he was 22. He became a middleweight contender in the 1960s. His boxing career ended after he and a friend were charged with murdering three people in 1966. Carter was found guilty in two different trials, but a federal judge freed him in 1985 because of misconduct by prosecutors.

Quote: "I was convicted of crimes that I did not commit, and could not and would not commit."

Today: Carter sits on the board of the Association in Defense of the Wrongly Convicted. The agency is based in Toronto, where he now lives.

 
 
Using court, medical and military records, it depicts Carter as a chronic liar, a thug who punched a 112-pound woman named Carolyn Kelley after she raised money for his defense and a remorseless murderer who conned star-struck reporters.

Carter's lawyer has denounced Deal and said his allegations are false. In turn, Deal said Carter has not spoken the truth in decades, fabricating stories about the jurors who convicted him, polygraph tests he did not pass and even his boxing record.

"He's lied to me many times," said Deal, 50, who now lives in Florida and makes his living creating courtroom evidence charts.

"Carter gets away with his lies because most people don't know the case; they've only seen the movie. It bothers me that a person who I believe to be a triple murderer is invited to college campuses and gets standing ovations, that he's asked to appear at the U.N. and the White House."

One of Deal's criticisms of Carter is that he tells gullible audiences he passed a lie-detector test soon after the three murders at Paterson's Lafayette Grill, but white prosecutors took him to trial anyway.

Carter, 62, made that very claim Saturday when he appeared at an NAACP event in Pittsburgh.

On his Web site, Deal has reproduced 33-year-old documents purporting that Carter failed a lie-detector test.

Perhaps more compelling are later letters from prosecutor Burrell Ives Humphreys, who offered to throw out the charges against Carter if he took and passed a second polygraph test. This occurred before Carter was retried in 1976. Humphreys said he would dismiss the murder charges against Carter if he was cleared in a lie-detector test administered by an independent expert.

Carter declined the test. He went to trial and was convicted a second time.

As for fairness, Carter said the courts rarely gave him any. He told his Pittsburgh audience that he faced all-white judges, prosecutors, police and juries.

In fact, two black people served on the jury that found Carter guilty of murder for the second time.

"They were elderly," Carter said in a brief interview after his speech. "They were easy to manipulate because they were elderly."

Humphreys, who was white, was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"He had no history of racial bias, and he would not have pursued a case against Carter unless he believed he had solid evidence of his guilt," Deal said.

Even Carter's record as a professional boxer has become a point of contention. He said that his arrest on false murder charges came as he was poised for a shot at the world middleweight boxing championship.

Carter's detractors point out that he lost seven of his last 15 fights. By the time the murders occurred in 1966, he no longer was a top challenger for the middleweight title. Carter's overall professional record was 27-12-1.

One of those defeats came in a world championship fight in December 1964 against Joey Giardello. In "The Hurricane," Carter is depicted as a clear winner over Giardello, giving the champion a fierce beating but losing the title in an inexplicable and possibly race-based decision.

In fact, all three judges voted for Giardello in what was not considered a close fight. Their decision generated no complaints at the time.

Giardello, now 69 and living in Cherry Hill, N.J., was so incensed by "The Hurricane" that he is suing its producers for libeling him.

Carter said his only disappointment with the movie was that it was not nominated for best picture, best director or other major Academy Awards.

"It should have been," he said.

He maintained that the movie of his life was slighted because it shows a strong, unyielding black man, which his oppressors could not stand.

"The controversy surrounding that movie," Carter said, "stems from the fact that some people think I shouldn't be around. They think I should be dead."



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